Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm asking advice in behalf of a close friend who's involved in a serious long-distance courtship right now. She met her fiance online. They live in separate countries thousands of miles from each other. She tells me they are getting along great and correspond regularly. He's asked her to marry him over the phone (after three months of "online dating") and she said yes. She believes him to be trustworthy and never doubts that he's the one for her, the big distance notwithstanding.

My concern is that they've never met each other in person! I read your article about sustaining long-distance love and you emphasized how important it is to personally meet during the courtship -- to quote, "there is no substitute for face-to-face contact." Her family and I are concerned that she'll marry a guy she knows only through email and telephone contact. It sounds awfully like getting married on the first date!

At one point during their "engagement," my friend asked her fiance if he wanted to speak with her parents for courtesy's sake, just to make them feel more comfortable, since they're conservative types and aren't so keen on the idea of cyber-dating, especially now that their daughter has consented to marry him. He refused, saying that at this point, they might ask "weird questions." The fact that he's not being open about himself just adds to our concerns that my friend might be walking into a trap.

What should I tell her? I don't want to interfere with her personal life, but I have a nagging concern for her welfare and her future were she to marry this guy. I understand she can't be that objective since she's in love and can be awfully naive. Please help!

Karen

Dear Karen,

When a friend is so blinded by love that she acts irrationally, we think that good friends and family have a duty to interfere. Nobody in their right mind would marry someone they have never met, no matter how romantic he seems over the Internet. We always tell singles we work with to have their families and friends meet their potential spouse, and we tell the family members and friends who suspect there is something amiss to express those sentiments. In most situations, if three or more third parties sense that there is something not quite right about their loved one's intended, they are right.

Frankly, we can't imagine how any rational adult would not want to meet the person they are thinking of spending the rest of their life with, as well as the person's family, before planning a wedding. When someone like your friend's fiance tries to avoid even talking to future in-laws on the telephone, our radar screen starts beeping. It sounds to us like he's hiding something.

Sherry has a list of clients who fell for con artists they corresponded with online. Some of these trusting, naive people left spouses and children, emptied out bank accounts, relocated, quit jobs and burned bridges to run away with someone they thought would be the love of their life, only to discover they were being had. Thank God none of them were physically hurt, although that could also have happened.

We know other people who eventually discovered that the person they had corresponded with had made up an identity or had someone else write letters for them. Still others simply didn't like their e-pal when they met, or found that the person who sounded so great online was controlling, mentally ill, abusive, or just plain weird.

Even if your friend were to actually like the man once she meets him, and even if he is perfectly honest and trustworthy, she has another problem that she probably didn't even anticipate. People from different countries have different cultural expectations about life and about marriage, and even couples that are very much in love may be unable to work through their differences. Why should she make herself a candidate for a possible divorce before even getting married? She needs to get to know her fiance in person to see how they can adapt to each other, communicate face-to-face and resolve disagreements.

It sounds like your friend has overdosed on the movie "You've Got Mail" or is in love with the idea of love. We encourage you and other people who care about her to talk to her in a way that shows care and compassion, and doesn't make her respond in an overly defensive manner. Don't tell her that she is stupid or foolish; instead tell her that you understand how much love she feels for her e-pal, and you hope that this man is as wonderful as he seems. Nevertheless, explain that because she is in love she is also very vulnerable. And explain that you are concerned for her welfare, and want her to take precautions before getting involved in something she may later regret.

Encourage her to take the time to get to know her fiance on a personal level before planning a wedding. She, or family members, should also hire a private detective to check him out before a meeting takes place. (Under the circumstances you describe, we believe this is warranted.) If this man is as good as she believes, then all this checking him out won't hurt things.

We hope this has been helpful, and we pray that your friend listens to you and takes precautions.

Rosie & Sherry


Hello Rosie & Sherry,

Thank you so much for responding to my last email. Everything you said rang true for me regarding my friend's situation. I'm sad to report that things with her took a turn for the worse.

She's still with this guy she met on the Internet. Early in their courtship he promised her a lot of things, like promising to pay for her tickets to come over to his country, and also to sponsor her post-grad education when she's ready. He told her he had a lot of money for them to start a life together and she shouldn't worry about anything. On the strength of those promises my friend had begun making plans to move to where he is, much to my and her family's dismay. When she told him she's ready to meet him he demurred and told her he's too busy and that he's still "looking into things."

Also, after that he's been communicating with her less and less, sometimes off for several days at a time. When they do have conversations, the guy begs off after 10 minutes, saying he's too tired to talk. And whenever she tries to recall him to their plans for the future and all the stuff he'd said he'd do for her, he glosses over the subject by peppering her with endearments and switching to another topic. But he never breathed a word since about their future together.

My friend is 27 years old, lives with her parents and after she met this guy she quit working and all she does now is hang around the phone and be on the Internet almost the whole day waiting for this guy to come on, and if he doesn't show up or doesn't call she'll be crying the whole time and making herself really miserable. She'll swallow any excuses he makes, though.

I have an impression the courtship is unraveling and the guy is just stringing her along. She's more miserable than happy now. As her close friend, I don't see anything positive coming out of all this. She used to be an upbeat, happy young woman and now she's a shell of her former self. All her dating has been long distance. Her last long-distance date was with a guy she met on the Internet who constantly lied to her and strung her along for two years. She has never met him in person. It turns out he's already married and just needed a part-time fancy. He promised her everything, of course. Now it seems as she's getting drawn in to the same situation.

She keeps telling me she won't listen to advice. Oftentimes I think I should just give up and let her figure out stuff for herself. I'd welcome any suggestions and advice from you though. Thank you very much for your help.


ROSIE & SHERRY RESPOND:

The fact that this guy is cooling off the courtship with your friend is actually a good thing, in that it sounds as if nothing will ever come of an Internet "romance" that seemed problematic from the start. Now, of course, is the time to address the bigger picture. Your friend needs help, but it is not the kind of help you are capable of giving her.

We have a number of questions. What made a formerly happily, bubbly 27-year-old quit her job and turn into a depressed Internet junkie? Why does she repeatedly seek out long-distance dating that is orchestrated by con men on the other side? Why, at age 27, is she still living with her parents? We don't know the answers to these questions, but we do know that your girlfriend needs intervention by a licensed mental health professional.

The best help that you, her other friends and her family members can give is to convince her to meet with a well-qualified therapist. You may want to speak with your friend's parents about the situation. If they have similar concerns, each of you should try to get recommendations for a good therapist, interview the candidates to see if they will be good for your friend's personality, and when you find the right one, discuss with him/her the best way to refer your friend to them.

We feel that this is the best way that you and your friend's family can help her break the self-destructive pattern in which she finds herself. We hope that you are successful.

Rosie & Sherry